Bison have a close resemblance to their American cousin but are a separate species. They are the heaviest wild land animal in Europe; weighing between 400-1,000kg and standing up to 2 metres tall. Bison belong to the bovine family (which includes cattle) and both males and females possess horns. They have a very distinctive, muscular humped shoulder and short legs.
Bison are herd animals and are diurnal. Herds can be mixed or bachelor herds. Mixed herds tend to have more individuals (on average 13 animals) and comprise of adult females, calves up to 2-3 years and young adult bulls.
“Rutting” season occurs between August-October and involves males becoming increasingly aggressive. Can involve scent marking, displays and fighting amongst males in order to attract females for mating.
Total worldwide population today is around 9,000 individuals following their extinction in the wild in the 1920s, which left only 54 animals in captivity. In 1929, the first successful reintroduction of Bison from zoos took place in the Białowieża Forest in Poland. European Bison have been reintroduced into the wild across Europe. These countries include, but are not limited to Poland, Latvia, Spain, Denmark and the Netherlands.
Habitat loss and fragmentation due to agriculture and logging was a contributing factor to their catastrophic decline and still impacts populations today. Hunting also had a huge effect, especially during World War I, when soldiers hunted them for sport, meat, hides and horn.
Due to the degree of habitat loss, many populations exist in small areas of forest due to the conflict with human population density; there is just not enough room. Due to small population size, resistance to diseases as well as inbreeding can pose a problem.
Historically, it could be found throughout western, central and south eastern Europe, but suffered wide scale extinction by 1920s.
Mixed forest and grassland habitats.
Bison are browsers, feeding mainly on leaves, bark, shrubs and tree shoots.
Wildwood inside information
We embarked on a successful project in partnership with Kent Wildlife Trust to restore nature and rewild the Blean woods around Canterbury in Kent. A herd of European Bison were introduced in 2022. For more information on this exciting new initiative, see our Wilder Blean project.
Bison are quite large, so our Bison are easy to spot in their enclosure in the top forest area of the park. We are home to one male called Haydes.
During summer, a male bison can eat up to 32kg of food in a day.